Searching for SME roles – The Inside Track on Leading in a Founder Owned Business

Many of you will be targeting SME's as your next employer and taking over control of Founder led businesses.

Those are some very big shoes to fill - working as a new MD for a Founder can feel like having the weight of the world on your shoulders.

It’s often a heady mix of driving growth, managing legacy and being the conduit between the Founder and the employee teams – not easy!

We have been lucky enough to have been working with some of the fastest growing businesses in the country and help the Founders of these businesses attract great MD’s. This is a tricky transitional period for the business owner (and the employee’s for that matter) as control is relinquished in the spirit of driving further growth.

Founders are inspirational, mission driven and often brilliant so when we run executive search campaigns of this ilk we always get an overwhelming response from bored and fed up corporate candidates who are looking for a fresh challenge.

Sadly, many of them make the switch out of the big corporates and fail fast on becoming MD of a fast growing SME.

Below are the 4 most valuable insights Career Jump can offer you if you are considering becoming the CEO or MD for a business that is currently Founder managed:

To some extent the Founder probably doesn’t want you there

As always there is a big difference between what people want and what people need. In my experience a Founder is often advised/pushed/forced by investors or other board members to hire an MD once the business grows to a certain size that is beyond their capability of managing on their own.

Deep down the founder will believe that they are the best person to manage the business as they have already done an incredible job to have got this far and regularly resist. You need to understand this dynamic when you enter these scenarios, respect what has gone before you and recognise that any reluctance to let go is not personal.

To succeed and overcome this you need to have quality communication that means you can implement…

A No Surprises Policy

I am yet to find a Founder who complained about their new MD over communicating.


It’s all about trust and in the early days in particular you want to be communicating what you are doing, gaining clear authorisation and making sure they don’t feel out of the loop. Do not wrestle them for power or let them uncover bad news or surprises from other sources and be very proactive – the prize in the end will be well worth it.

Ironically in the first year you will be reporting upwards far more than you ever did in your corporate career in a listed business!

Remember this will reduce over time as your integrity is shown and your trust is built.

Often its Emotional not Logical

You have to care as much about the business as the Founder does – don’t take on this type of MD if you lack EQ.

Many businesses have been built in the Founders image and define their identity and who they are. You have to respect the blood, sweat and tears that has gone before you and recognise that sometimes decisions will be made based on emotion, taste and personal preference - not pure logic and data.

Many Founders describe their business as their “baby” and are very parental in their approach. Don’t fight this but tap into their incredible passion and align it in a shared agenda that is meaningful to both of you.

Get Clarity on Roles and Responsibilities early

Typically the Business Owner will have done everything so you need to make sure you have full clarity on who does what as early into your tenure as possible.

Locking down agreed processes for the more emotive parts of a business such as hiring, spending and marketing will set you up for success. Once you have that clarity, implement a no surprises policy and you could be set up for a career defining period and one hell of a journey!

Want to make it your mission to attract an MD role in an SME?  Head on over to our courses section now.

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